Politically Ruined Orie Sisters Take Fight to Third Circuit

This combination photo shows former Pennsylvania state senator Jane Orie, right, from Feb. 29, 2012; her sister, former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, center, from May 18, 2012; and their sister, Janine Orie, left, from April 7, 2010. (Photos by Keith Srakocic & Gene Puskar, AP)

PHILADELPHIA (CN) – Three politically active sisters, one a former Pennsylvania senator and another a former state Supreme Court justice, challenged their corruption convictions Wednesday at the Third Circuit.

The case began in 2010 with theft-of-services and conspiracy charges against Jane Orie, who had been senator for the 40th District of Pennsylvania, and her sister Janine Orie after an intern at Jane’s office filed a complaint that staff was working on the senator’s campaign. Following an initial mistrial that was declared after the former majority whip was found to have entered forged documents into evidence, prosecutors also brought similar charges against former Justice Joan Orie Melvin.

The women were all eventually convicted but claimed on appeal that their prosecutions violated double-jeopardy protections.

A three-judge panel of the Third Circuit consolidated their cases for a hearing today in Philadelphia.  

Melvin’s attorney Donna Walsh told the court that theft-of-service charges were not applicable to her client because the work for the state was still done.

Though Walsh argued that employees deviate from their assigned duties all the time without facing criminal charges, U.S. Circuit Judge Stephanos Bibas pushed back on this, saying that work was diverted from the state to help Melvin with her campaign.

An attorney with the firm Myers, Brier and Kelly, Walsh held firm.

“As long as the state gets what it paid for there is no diversion,” she said.

Assistant District Attorney Ronald Wabby Jr. emphasized meanwhile that Melvin was prosecuted for taking money from the state to help herself and her sister.

“The state paid for her political campaign,” said Wabby, who represents Allegheny County.

Wabby also said that whatever work Melvin and her staff did accomplish for the state does not equate the full amount they could have done.

William Costopoulos, attorney for Jane, focused his arguments Wednesday on the forged evidence she was found to to have entered at trial.

A member of the firm Costopoulos, Foster and Fields, Costopoulos said the trial court lacked the authority to decide whether the evidence was valid.

“Whether it is false or not, that’s for the jury to decide,” said Castopoulous. “Not the trial court.”

U.S. Circuit Judge Kent Jordan appeared doubtful of the argument.

“It came to light that your client had fabricated evidence,” Judge Jordan said. “What is a trial court suppose to do?”

As for the third sister, Janine, who was a secretary for Melvin, her attorney James DePasquale said the mistrial should not have included his client and that she should be entitled to relief despite her never being sentenced for the crimes.

Judge Jordan pointed out that Janine does not meet the “in custody” requirement for relief.

“There is no basis for her to complain here that she was wrongfully in custody,” Jordan said. “She never was.”

Jane was released from prison in 2014 after serving her minimum sentence of 2 ½ years. Melvin was sentenced to three years of house arrest, community service at a soup kitchen and handwritten apologies to each judge in the state.

U.S. Circuit Judge Paul Matey rounded out the panel.

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